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Sociology of Motherhood

In many cultures, especially in a traditional western one, a mother is usually the wife in a married couple. Her role in the family is celebrated on Mother's Day. Some often view mothers' duties as raising and looking after their children every minute of every day. Mothers frequently have a very important role in raising offspring, and the title can be given to a non-biological mother that fills this role. This is common in stepmothers (female married to biological father). In most family structures, the mother is both a biological parent and a primary caregiver.

However, this limited role has increasingly been called into question. Both feminist and masculist authors have decried such predetermined roles as unjust.

Family And Culture

Within the study of the family, one area that sociologists examine is the cultural factors that shape family structures and family processes. For example, how gender, age, sex, race, and ethnicity influence different family structures and the practices within each family. They also look at the demographic characteristics of family members across and within cultures and they have changed over time.

Relationship Preferences

Another area studied under the sociology of the family is relationships. This includes the stages of coupling (courtship, cohabitation, engagement, and marriage), relationships between husbands and wives through time, and parenting. The topic of parenting is a large one and includes things such as the socialization of children, the father role, the mother role, single parenting, adoption and foster parenting, and the son/daughter role.

Alternative Family Forms

Alternative family forms and singlehood are other topics examined under the sociology of the family. For example, many sociologists study the roles and influence of family members beyond the nuclear family, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, godparents, and surrogate kin. Marital disunions are also studied, particularly as divorce rates have raised over the past several decades.

Family Systems and Other Institutions

Sociologists who study the family also look at how other institutions affect and are affected by family systems. For instance, how is the family affected by religion and how is religion influence by the family? Likewise, how is the family affected by work, education, politics, mass media, etc. and how are each of these institutions affected by the family?


2. The family unit in terms of applied sociology is a micro level society, or the smallest structure of society within our vast world of societies. It consists of more than one person that forms the most intimate and personal of groups. Though it may be a very small group of very like-minded people there are still guidelines in place that govern the functionality of the family and create behaviors within the group which makes the tiny society distinguishable from others.

Applied sociology is used to find and address the problems within a society by using various methods that are based on a theory and then tested using both evidence that can be measured and evidence that is more sensory. Looking at your family as a small society you can better understand how these methods can be used to analyze and correct your own problems.

Within the family unit there are still social roles that the family members take on and that are aware to everyone in the group. For example, traditionally the father is the head of the family with the mother a close second, a partner. However, the unique family structures that are becoming prevalent in America are making for interesting questions as to the roles within the family and what affects it will lead to in society outside the family. It is not uncommon to now find single parent led families, grandparents raising grandchildren, step families that combine two family units and other combinations.

Still the fact remains that there is a power hierarchy within the family society and each member has their societal roles. Using applied sociology within the family unit is very similar to practicing it at the micro level. The micro level focuses on the smallest societies which includes the family. Like any applied sociologist in order to use the science within your society you must first understand that society.

It should be easy as a member of your family to recognize the key traits that form the family society. There four areas in which a micro society like a family unit creates the ideas that govern it.

  • The first is socialization. Socialization is the creation of shared beliefs and ideals that led to the norms of a micro society. Socialization is the indicator as to how one should interact within a society. An example of socialization would be sharing every meal at the table instead of in front of the television because that is family discussion time.
  • Segragation on the other hand is the separation of parts of a society that are found to function better when separated from the whole. Even within the family there are some activities that people are far more comfortable performing in their own space on their own that could otherwise lead to conflict. It’s like each family member having their own room.
  • Ritual is also involved in micro level societies. In this circumstance ritual refers to actions that are repeated, typical interactions for the society in a certain situation. They are the action that come second nature within the setting and expected. Tucking a child before bed can be a ritual within a family unit.
  • Sanctioning is the fourth social control that makes up a micro society. This is the one on one interaction of reading another person’s actions and expressions to determine the appropriate behavior within the society. By interpreting these gestures and expressions members of the society react to different situations as they understand they should in that moment. It’s the standard I’ll count to three routine that parents use when a child is about to be reprimanded.

By understanding how these elements create the family unit you can better understand the interactions between the family members and the ideas and actions that link you together as a miniature society. As a society the family has overall institutions and policies as well as smaller components that may not affect every member in the same way.

If the larger policies that affect the group as a whole aren’t functioning then the family unit will experience stress. When considering the policies that govern the family every member must be taken into consideration since each individual forms the whole. However, the social roles of each member must also be taken into consideration. The head of the family is the one who keeps order by setting rules and enforcing them.

In the case of problematic children it could be a refusal to recognize their social role in the family. By helping them understand their social role and explaining how it factors into the society children can better understand the need for such regulation. This is especially true if you actively involve the child and really incorporate their needs and thoughts into the policies that are set.

By using the interview method of applied sociology you can discover what factors are important to each family member, what isn’t working or isn’t fair within the current policies, and get an idea as to the changes that can correct problems. Interviewing is a direct way to gain information that can be both measured or a sensory feeling as well as give you the opportunity to observe a family member which is another applied sociology method for gaining valuable information.

An annual family summer vacation would be a circumstance for using these applied sociology methods. It is a policy that affects the entire group, and one person being displeased with it can affect the enjoyment of the entire group. Social roles must still be considered with those paying for the trip being at the top of the hierarchy. However, by asking each member things like where they’d like to go, what type of activities they’d like to do, and the reasons for their answers you may get surprising answers and ideas that help in the planning. If nothing else no one can complain if they feel they are part of the decision making process.

The applied sociology technique of content analysis can help you improve communication within the family. There’s no denying that age can create a language barrier and this is largely due to the various societies outside the family that members belong to. Content analysis involves studying the type of media that a family member is exposed to and absorbs.

As we take in mass media and other media such as books and newspapers it is a form of communication. We learn from and are influenced by the media we consume thus affecting how we communicate with others as well. Think about someone who watches nothing but MTV, their vernacular is going to be decidedly more youthful and likely laced with the newest catch phrases and slang.

Content analyze also studies the way in which people react to the media they take in. What is it that sparks interest? Does something get them discussing a subject further? This intake of content leads to outward actions and communications. It’s worth the time to understand what outside influences are affecting the way your family members communicate. You’ll have a better understanding as to what will communicate your own ideas more affectively, how they will react to certain information, what interests them and more. Even knowing how certain ideas affect their disposition will aid you in communicating better with your family members.

These are just a few ways in which you can apply applied sociology methods within your own family. By looking at the family unit as the micro level society it is, you can better analyze where improvements can be made to make the society function better to meet the needs of each member.

  1. Sociologistsand most other social scientists view sex and gender as conceptually distinct. Sex refers to physical or physiological differences between males and females, including both primary sex characteristics (the reproductive system) and secondary characteristics such as height and muscularity. Gender is a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions associated with being male or female. Gender identity is the extent to which one identifies as being either masculine or feminine (Diamond 2002).

A person’s sex, as determined by his or her biology, does not always correspond with his or her gender. Therefore, the terms sex and gender are not interchangeable. A baby boy who is born with male genitalia will be identified as male. As he grows, however, he may identify with the feminine aspects of his culture. Since the term sex refers to biological or physical distinctions, characteristics of sex will not vary significantly between different human societies. For example, all persons of the female sex, in general, regardless of culture, will eventually menstruate and develop breasts that can lactate. Characteristics of gender, on the other hand, may vary greatly between different societies. For example, in American culture, it is considered feminine (or a trait of the female gender) to wear a dress or skirt. However, in many Middle Eastern, Asian, and African cultures, dresses or skirts (often referred to as sarongs, robes, or gowns) can be considered masculine. The kilt worn by a Scottish male does not make him appear feminine in his culture.

The dichotomous view of gender (the notion that one is either male or female) is specific to certain cultures and is not universal. In some cultures, gender is viewed as fluid. In the past, some anthropologists used the term berdache to refer to individuals who occasionally or permanently dressed and lived as the opposite gender. The practice has been noted among certain Aboriginal groups (Jacobs, Thomas, and Lang 1997). Samoan culture accepts what they refer to as a “third gender.” Fa’afafine, which translates as “the way of the woman,” is a term used to describe individuals who are born biologically male but embody both masculine and feminine traits. Fa’afafines are considered an important part of Samoan culture. Individuals from other cultures may mislabel them as homosexuals because fa’afafines have a varied sexual life that may include men or women (Poasa 1992).

Gender Roles

As we grow, we learn how to behave from those around us. In this socialization process, children are introduced to certain roles that are typically linked to their biological sex. The term gender role refers to society’s concept of how men and women are expected to act and how they should behave. These roles are based on norms, or standards, created by society. In Canadian culture, masculine roles are usually associated with strength, aggression, and dominance, while feminine roles are usually associated with passivity, nurturing, and subordination. Role learning starts with socialization at birth. Even today, our society is quick to outfit male infants in blue and girls in pink, even applying these colour-coded gender labels while a baby is in the womb.


4. According to Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “marriage and family, maternity, paternity and childhood are under protection of the society and the state”. The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On Marriage and Family” states and regulates family and marriage relations. Their fundamental principles include equality of the spouses’ rights in a family, priority of family upbringing of the children, and protection of the rights and interests of minors and disabled family members.

According to the 1999 census there are about 3,500,000 families in Kazakhstan. The average family has four members; 4.6 in rural areas and 3.6 in the cities. 56% of women and 62% of men were married.

The average age at which people marry is increasing; in 2004 it was 24.0 for women and 26.9 for men.

About 1,000,000 people (9.1%) are widowed; there are six times as many women than men among them; these are mainly people of older age.

There are almost 700,000 divorced people (6.4%); in this group the number of women is twice as large as the number of men.

More than 500,000 women over 23, or every ninth woman, do not have children.

There are 445,000 families (11%) with single mothers and children, of this 11% almost two thirds are mothers with minors.

The distribution of responsibilities inside the family is traditional and discriminates women. The budgeted time of men usually consists of paid work and leisure time, while women’s includes paid work, responsibilities in the home, taking care of the children and serving the needs of other family members.


A sufficient legal basis on the family, women’s and children’s issues has been created in Kazakhstan. Understanding in the society of the importance of the family, and realization of its role in brining-up the next generation and thus in the provision of public stability and progress. Acknowledgement of the necessity to take into consideration the interests of families and children, as well as undertaking special measures for their social support.

The observed tendency of real reform in the patriarchal family structure and emergence of new various models aimed at gender partnership and cooperation.


Incomplete families, those consisting of one parent and children, are mainly maternal. According to the 1999 census, 91% of incomplete families were headed by women. About 850,000 people, 6% of the population, lives out-side of a family. Fathers’ influence on the upbringing of children in the family has decreased. There are a growing number of divorces; this can cause the family prestige to decrease, increases of tension in the families and more conflicts and violent actions against women.


Further improvement of social guarantees for family support will enhance the strengthening of families. Development of a network of preschools and summer health camps for schoolchildren, which are accessible for all families. Life expectancy of married men is higher as compared to unmarried men.


There is a growth in number of persons, who have never been married. There is approximately the same number of single women over the age of 23 and men over the age of 26; altogether there are about 1,200,000 single people, that means that almost every fifth person does not have a family. As the study shows, today a considerable number of young people live together without being married, following the experience of western countries. Families with many children, single mothers and young families are in the most difficult situations. The constructive role of a family in the development of future human potential is poorly realized and supported by the modern society. Many married couples and unmarried women limit themselves to one child or delay the birth of a child for an unspecified period of time. There is potential for the deterioration of the demographic situation and increases in the number of single men and women.

The main goal of state family policy of Kazakhstan is strengthening the institution of the family and marriage relations, enhancing the prestige of the family, promotion of marriage and family values, and achieving gender equality in family relations, to ensure social and cultural succession of the generations and serve as factors for stability and sustainable development of civil society; development of new models of an egalitarian family, based on the principles of gender equality; and greater involvement of men in household work and upbringing of children.

This resulted in defining of strategic objectives of family policy:

- Further improvement of national legislation on marriage and further development of social support for families.

- Creation of corresponding socio-economic and living conditions for self-realization of the family members and upbringing of the children.

- Achieving gender equality in family relations. Enhancing the prestige of the family, strengthening of marriage relations and promotion of marriage and family values.

- Revival of moral values and cultivation of a positive image of family and marriage.

- Establishment of the egalitarian family. Equal distribution of responsibility for both upbringing children and household work.

- Improvement of the informational and legal education of the population on the issues of gender equality in marriage and family relations.


Questions for Review:

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 3144

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